Human trafficking is an invisible yet pervasive problem. It happens everywhere—from Pattaya, Thailand to our local communities. Maybe you’ve heard a story of human trafficking where someone was locked up or physically unable to escape. It’s not always that clear cut. The “prison” that these vulnerable people are trapped in is often much more complex than that and includes mental, emotional, cultural, and economic barriers. It includes broken family relationships, abuse, trauma, and other things that keep survivors vulnerable and locked into this way of living.
The path into it is jagged and the pathway out is just as topsy-turvy.
We tend to think it only happens in other countries, but here’s a story of human trafficking that happened right in our own backyard.
Hazel (whose name we changed) was with her friends at the 12 Oaks Mall food court. She was the quiet one in the group. Instead of feeling valued and loved, she often felt like a burden in her unstable family. And it showed. The man at the table nearby could tell. He casually approached her as the girls walked away.
“I just wanted to tell you, you have really beautiful eyes,” he said. She looked down, not sure how to respond. Their short interaction ended with him asking for her Instagram handle. She felt bad saying, “no” after the compliment. So she complied.
That’s how her grooming began.
Hazel didn’t want to have sex, but over time she developed feelings for him. Somehow, he felt safe. He talked her into it. Then he asked her to do it for his buddy, just one time. She gave in.
Guilt and shame overwhelmed her. How did this happen? I’m worthless. I guess this is my life now. Trauma. Shame. Regret. More Trauma. Until Hazel ended up selling herself on a street corner in Detroit and using drugs to cope.
From the outside looking in, it might look like prostitution. But in many cases, what looks like prostitution is really someone in a very dire situation and enslaved against their will.
It can happen to anyone but 60-70% of people who are sexually exploited in the U.S. come from the foster system. They grow up feeling unwanted and unworthy—and groomers know how to spot them.
Reaching human trafficking survivors here in Michigan
Survivors of human trafficking need people to show them their life is valuable, they matter to God and there is hope. There’s an opportunity for the church to come alongside organizations that are already doing the work. That’s what Ward Church is doing with the ministry of Gateway 328 to fight human trafficking in Michigan.
Gateway 328 partners with All Worthy of Love, a justice focused non-profit that reaches men and women enslaved in street prostitution near Detroit and Ypsilanti.
Each week, they visit the same neighborhoods to build relationships with people enslaved in trafficking. They hand out lunches and care kits and offer to pray for those they encounter. They remember their names and their stories so the next time they visit, they can follow up. Even more than most relationships, it takes time to build trust.
This is the slow and faithful work of the ministry, based on the belief that all are worthy of love—because they are.
Be a part of the anti-human-trafficking movement
It’s hard to know how to respond to such a big problem like human trafficking. But there’s an easy thing you can do to be part of the story of freedom in the lives of those who are caught in human trafficking in Michigan. Donate lunches and care kits to Gateway 328. They collect them each month to help All Worthy of Love meet the practical needs of enslaved women in the area.
Through the ministry of Gateway 328, the Ward Church community has already donated over two thousand lunches and care kits since we started in 2021. If you’d like to donate, check their webpage for the list of items and instructions. This is a great activity to do with a group of friends, small group, moms group or others who want to show the love of Jesus to these men and women in a tangible way.
Over the summer, we’ll be sharing stories of human trafficking both locally and abroad. If you would like to learn more about Gateway 328 and the opportunities they offer to fight trafficking locally and abroad, visit their webpage or email Jennalin at email@example.com.
Article by Nicole Wells